BSA takes a strategic look at the future

It’s an exciting venture for a high school to consider the basic values of its educational actions. We’ve been doing just that at Baltimore School for the Arts for the past 18 months and I’m eager to share our work with you as we think about the future of this incredible school. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about our strategic planning process, and I hope you’ll join our conversation about the arts and education. In this first post, I’d like to talk a little bit about our plan, and about one of the many questions we’ve considered as we developed it.

It may be surprising that we are engaged in strategic planning at a public school that is widely considered to be very successful, where students go on to academic and professional accomplishments with surprising consistency. Those facts are all true and they’re all good, but the world is changing and the rate of change is accelerating. We feel it’s important to consider that change as we think about the future of BSA’s students and its leaders.

A committee of 12, led by alumni and BSA Board members Li-Wen Kang (Music ’88) & Todd Harvey (Visual Arts ’94), has spent the last year talking to young artists and education leaders around the country to discover what the professional future might hold for our students and the best way to prepare them for that unknowable future.

One of the questions we considered as we embarked on this was “How has the professional world changed for BSA graduates?” The differences can be seen when we take a brief look at two BSA graduates who are outstanding jazz artists—one from the 1980s (Antonio Hart) and one from the 1990s (Dontae Winslow). I was very fortunate to teach them both.

Antonio Hart
Antonio Hart

Antonio has had an amazing trajectory, one that may be familiar to many of us (even if unattainable at this level for most). He was chosen as an “up & comer” by a record label while still in school; had a series of recordings; leads a number of high-level musical ensembles; and is a professor at a university. I’d like to think BSA’s intense musical training and devotion to education have served him well.

Dontae, on the other hand, has built a career very different than I might have imagined for myself and my students in the 90s. He, too, is an excellent performer. He is one of nine musicians on the Justin Timberlake tour, playing at the highest level with an incredibly exacting headliner. But he’s involved in other professional activities as well. He’s creating his own albums (little or no record company involvement); he’s developed a non-profit educational group to reach younger students (no standard educational institution involved); and he creates music for others—string & horn arrangements for Chinese pop and film music, as well as playing and arranging on Dr. Dre’s score for “Straight Outta Compton.”

Dontae Winslow & Justin Timberlake
Dontae Winslow & Justin Timberlake

Antonio and Dontae are both unbelievably accomplished, but they lead very different professional lives. Antonio’s path is a little bit more familiar to us, especially to the old guard. But Dontae is working without an institutional framework—he’s making his professional life up out of whole cloth, as he goes along.

This example led us to even more questions—what is BSA doing to support our current students in this new world where institutions play a minimal role? How are we helping our students understand this new world? What are the best actions to take to support our kids around these ideas during their high school career?

It’s exciting to think about the kind of characteristics we hope our students will have, rather than just the things we want them to remember. We have amazing kids who will go on to do incredible things as adults. We’re working hard to give them the most powerful launch pad. I’ll share more about some of our conclusions in the next post.